Brian Petrovek, CEO and managing owner of the Portland Pirates, disputed a media report on Tuesday that he has reached a deal to move the American Hockey League team to Albany, N.Y.

Petrovek said he’s continuing to negotiate a new lease agreement with trustees of the Cumberland County Civic Center.

“We don’t have a deal in Albany. We don’t have a deal in Portland,” Petrovek told the Portland Press Herald. “We need to get a deal done, and we’re working as hard as we can to get one done in Portland.”

In a report published Tuesday in the Albany Times Union newspaper, Times Union Center General Manager Bob Belber said he’s “close to an agreement in principle” with a new AHL tenant for the 14,000-seat arena.

“I can’t control what comes out of Albany,” Petrovek said. “All I can control is what comes out of me. I can say without hesitation, as I’ve said to the (civic center) trustees who have called me (Tuesday) morning and asked, ‘Have you made a deal with a city in another market?’ I can say, ‘No.’”

Reports of the Pirates’ possible move to upstate New York surfaced after the sale of the Albany River Rats last month to a group of North Carolina businessmen. That team will operate next winter as the Charlotte Checkers and remain affiliated with the National Hockey League’s Carolina Hurricanes.

Petrovek would neither confirm nor deny that he has been involved in talks with the management of the Times Union Center.
“Suggesting that a deal has been made in principle, I don’t know where they get that,” Petrovek said. “I know what it takes to make a deal in principle, and I hope I can make one in principle with the civic center trustees any day.”

Belber told the Albany newspaper that “there actually are two discussions that are ongoing” for a new team at the Times Union Center.
The only other AHL franchise in the Northeast whose lease agreement will end soon is based in Lowell, Mass., and is owned by the NHL’s New Jersey Devils. The Times Union has reported that Belber is focused on attracting a franchise that’s now based in the Northeast.

On Monday, Petrovek met with negotiators from the Cumberland County Civic Center’s board of trustees. The Pirates’ five-year lease with the county ends April 30.

“We had a good, I think a very good, negotiating session (Monday),” he said. “It remains to be seen how quickly we can move to the next session.”

The Cumberland County Civic Center Sports Committee, which is negotiating with the Pirates, met for two hours in executive session Tuesday night.

Neal Pratt, chairman of the civic center’s trustees, said the committee plans to meet with the nine-member board of trustees on Friday. Pratt said negotiators will update trustees and try to get a sense for how they should proceed.

Pratt said he was told by the Pirates on Tuesday that the reports out of Albany were false.

He doesn’t doubt that the management of the Times Union Center is pursuing the Pirates.

“I have no other information other than the media accounts that there is a deal in principle or even details of any offers from Albany,” said Pratt, the trustees’ chief negotiator in the talks with the Pirates. “As far as I’m concerned, we’re still having discussions with the Pirates. I think there are issues and we’re trying to work through them. It depends on the flexibility of both sides.”

Petrovek said he wants to “establish a long-term position” in Portland, perhaps a lease agreement for as long as 15 years. The intricacies of such a long deal could be a major reason for the protracted negotiations.

“It’s the complexities which leads to the time it has taken,” Pratt said.

No deadline has been set for the end of negotiations, but Petrovek said time is now of the essence.

“It’s the time of the year where we need to be out preparing for next year,” he said. “We need to be selling season tickets for next year, having conversations with my sponsors. None of that can take place (without a new lease agreement). To be in this position in the middle of the season with a team headed toward the playoffs, playing incredible hockey, is regrettable. We need to be in position to operate our business.”

– Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: [email protected]